Monday, November 28, 2016

Andrew Harding's "The Mayor of Mogadishu"

Andrew Harding is a British journalist and author. He has been living and working abroad as a foreign correspondent for the past 25 years. Since 1994 he has been working for BBC News.

Harding has been visiting Somalia since 2000, and was in Mogadishu during the height of the battle against the Islamist militants of Al Shabab and during the famine of 2011. He is one of the very few foreign journalists to have travelled into territory controlled by Al Shabab and met their commanders, or to have visited (twice) the pirate town of Eyl.

Here Harding dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, The Mayor of Mogadishu: A Story of Chaos and Redemption in the Ruins of Somalia:
When I first asked the Mayor of Mogadishu, Mohamud “Tarzan” Nur, if he would allow me to write a book about him – a book, I stressed, that would not be an “authorized” biography and would contain plenty of criticism about him – he hardly gave it a thought. The answer was yes. “Write what you like,” he said with a shrug. But almost immediately, he started talking about Hollywood. A film of his life - now that was what he really wanted.

And you could see his point. Mogadishu – the city of Black Hawk Down, in the country of Captain Phillips. And the Mayor himself - often profiled by the international media as “the man with the world’s most dangerous job.” Which was true enough. I’d seen it up close, driving round the rubble of Mogadishu with Tarzan, pistol tucked in his trousers, two dozen armed guards in pickup trucks to guard him, and a succession of unsuccessful assassination attempts in his wake.

How could Hollywood resist?

Well, we shall see.

But in the meantime I can’t deny having given it some thought during the six years that I’ve got to know Tarzan and his family. With his white, aristocratic beard, and his scarred, brawlers face, I’ve imagined Omar Sharif – back from the grave – to play the lead. And perhaps Sophia Lauren to play his elegant young wife, Shamis. After all, she used to stroll along Mogadishu’s Italianate beach front in her mini-skirt in the 1970s.

But I can feel myself getting in trouble. Surely African actors should play these roles. Absolutely. But which Africans? Somalis are a particularly homogenous, distinct group. Black Hawk Down suffered – and was often mocked - from its casting of non-Somalis, who seemed, to those in the know, as suitable as blonde Scandinavians playing Syrians. Somalis are, understandably, wary of others appropriating their history.

Perhaps Barkhad Abdi, the remarkable “pirate” from Captain Phillips could capture something of Tarzan’s thuggish confidence. As for Shamis – as Somalia struggles to end decades of isolation and instability, perhaps the casting director should come to Mogadishu for screen tests.
Visit Andrew Harding's website.

--Marshal Zeringue